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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Review: The Invisible Boy (1957)

The Invisible Boy is tucked away on the second disc of Warner's recent Forbidden Planet double dip. Watching this film didn't ring any bells, so I'm pretty sure this was a first viewing for me. It's kind of obscure and barely a fraction of the movie Forbidden Planet is, but it's kind of fun anyway.

Egghead mathematician Dr. Tom Merrinoe is irritated that his son Timmy is almost 10 and can't play a decent game of chess. So he takes the boy in to meet this supercomputer he's created and the machine teached the boy about chess...and world domination. Dun duh duuuuuuuuuh!

Timmy hustles his dad at chess and in return gets to play with Robby the Robot. Actually, he has to rebuild Robby first, which he does flawlessly and no one seems to find this weird despite the fact that all these other science dudes couldn't figure out what made him tick. Later, Timmy has the supercomputer reprogram Robby to forget the first law of robotics because he wants Robby to fly him in this dangerous kite Robby built for him.

Timmy's mom sees him flying, flips out and deals the kid a beatdown. This leads to Timmy wishing he could do fun stuff and no one could see him, so Robby cooks up an invisibility potion for him. Again, the fact that something completely fantastic just happened seems to be handled very nonchalantly and the boy receives another whooping after playing voyeur on his parents. (Ewwww!)

Meanwhile, the army is trying to get a rocket up and has asked the supercomputer for help, but the machine has different ideas. Dr. Merrinoe has some code sequence memorized that the machine needs so it can be disassembled and reassembled on the moon where it will then rule the Earth. (Huh?) The computer has Robby take Timmy hostage and install transmitters in the skulls of all the army and science people around the doctor to try and persuade him.

The rest of the movie is the doctor trying to get Timmy back without giving away the code. You can probably guess what happens, but if you can't, I'll give you a clue. They all live happily ever after (and Robby protects Timmy from getting a final spanking. Sheesh, you'd think they be happy to get the kid back in one piece.)

I know it's not fair to compare this movie to Forbidden Planet, but given they are packaged together like this, it's kind of hard not to. The Invisible Boy is pretty much the polar opposite of that masterpiece. It's cheap, juvenile and silly with tons of pseudoscience whereas Planet is a mature "A" picture with lots of research and care going into it. Forbidden Planet was based on Shakespeare. The Invisible Boy could have been a Richie Rich comic.

My favorite thing about The Invisible Boy (aside from Robby, who is still my favorite movie robot) is the way everyone treats Timmy and his various shenanigans. In the first five minutes of the film, it's pretty obvious the kid is depressed because his father is self-absorbed and a workaholic and his mother is the typical weak "wait 'till your father gets home" type. Everything Timmy does is either wrong or worth a beating. No chance of sparing the rod and spoiling the child here.

However, when the kid is responsible for some amazing stuff, it's just brushed off. Rebuild a robot that a bunch of science dudes couldn't figure out? Oh, that's nice. Turn yourself invisible? He's just acting out. This whole movie plays like some pop psychology hell.

Then there's the supercomputer. Despite being cheap (and having a midsection that looks like one of those dessert display cabinets you used to see in restaurants) is kinda cool. Because it's the heavy, one might be tempted to see this as a precursor to man vs. machine movies like 2001 and Blade Runner, but really, that's giving The Invisible Boy too much credit. The film still plays like a giant monster movie, except this time the monster is electric...err...atomic (this was the 50s, after all.)

It's obvious The Invisible Boy was thrown together to get some more mileage out of the expensive Robby suit. It probably didn't hurt that this movie would appeal to the kiddies either. If you approach it like a kid's B movie, it's a bit easier to swallow. Still, I'd have a hard time recommending this to anyone other than sci-fi completests or Robby the Robot fans.

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